New Study Takes Another Look at Coral Bleaching Offender

WOODS HOLE – Researchers with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution may be restoring the reputation of a natural toxin believed to be the main culprit in coral bleaching.

Superoxide, a natural toxin all oxygen breathing organisms produce, has been thought to cause coral to lose their vibrant colors by releasing the color-producing algae living inside them as the toxin builds up in the cells.

A new WHOI study published this week in the journal “Nature Communications” suggests that when these molecules are produced at coral surfaces they may actually play a beneficial role in coral health and resilience.

WHOI biochemist, and lead author of the study, Collen Hansel says when researchers measured superoxide concentrations at the surface of corals during a bleaching event, they saw a different dynamic.

The toxin appeared to provide a benefit to the corals and even may have helped some species resist bleaching.

The researchers were surprised to see the coral species that were more susceptible to bleaching weren’t producing external superoxide, while the corals resisting produced high concentrations.

The results from the study may contribute to future strategies to prevent bleaching.

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